Wednesday, March 02, 2005


so on friday i started coughing more than usual. i was more "flemish" than usual. the symptoms continued throughout the weekend, though i was always functional.

by tuesday morning it was pretty bad. i was sneezing or blowing my nose every 15 minutes. sneezing is unusual for me; i rarely sneeze even in the height of allergy season, so clearly i was infected with germs of some sort. i went to work, even though i wondered whether i should, and it just got worse. i would alternate between sweats and chills. the symptoms came in waves, and at the height of the waves my eyes would water so much that tears would stream down my face. but despite all this misery, i was still relatively functional.

i strongly debated whether i should go home sick. i figured that maybe i would go home around lunchtime, so i would only use up a half day. but when lunchtime came around, i figured, "well, i'm already here..." so i stuck around for the rest of the day.

i spoke to connie last night, and she insisted that not only should i have gone home, i should also call in sick this morning. but i wanted to wait until morning to see how i felt when i awoke.

i got up and felt noticeably better. not well, but better. so after sitting in my room debating for about 10 minutes, of course i got in the shower and headed into the office. connie would be so disappointed. but once i got there, i started feeling worse. i wasn't sneezing or nose-blowing as often as yesterday, but most of the symptoms were still there.

really i was just looking for some excuse to go home or call in sick. eventually i found one and prepared to leave work early.

i wanted to "ham it up" in a sense when telling my boss i was leaving: not invent symptoms or anything, but ideally it should be at the crux of a symptom wave so that tears were streaming down my face and snot pouring out my nose when i spoke to her. of course, when i wanted them, they wouldn't come. but it didn't matter: my bosses weren't in their offices anyway so i just sent them an email and left.

as you might have guessed (if you're as cynical as i), my symptoms hit me in full shortly after i got into the car and left my office. in my car, where i didn't have a lot of tissue.

i checked my office mail to see whether my bosses had replied, and while they hadn't exactly, my dept head (my boss's boss) did send out an email reminding all of us that "you should take a sick day when you're not feeling well. Our time off policies are in place to provide time for illness and it's really in your best interest as well as all the people around you to stay home when you're sick."

she also linked to this article about "presenteeism".
"Presenteeism" — going to work when you're sick — is as contagious as the flu. Millions of Americans are doing it. By one estimate, upwards of 75 percent head to work with the common cold or other problems.

Sure, sick employees keep the computer warm. But research shows that people sick with the common cold are not very productive. In fact, their lost productivity accounts for up to 60 percent of employer health costs — more than if they'd taken a sick day.

i have to admit that, while i don't know exactly how "sick" i am today, i have a critical case of presenteeism. i almost never call in sick: that time last month (right before my vacation) is the exception: i only call in sick if i'm vomiting profusely or shitting myself. i call in so rarely, in fact, that during a department meeting last year discussing time-off policies, they cited me as an example of someone who never takes sick time.

why am i wired to go to work every day even if i'm feeling ill? it's like going to work is my default mode and extreme circumstances are required before i'll consider taking an unscheduled day off. even when i was stranded in o'hare airport and didn't know if i would even reach indianapolis by morning, i was reluctant to ask for the whole day off. "maybe i'll come in this afternoon," i said to the dept head's voicemail as i sat on the floor of the airport terminal at 1am chicago time. granted, i didn't have any more vacation time left for the year, so taking that day off work involved either taking the day off unpaid or getting them to grant me a sick day when i wasn't technically sick. but then again, it was the week between xmas and new year's, and i probably hadn't taken a single sick day all year. when i finally awoke in my own bed many hours later, there was a message on my voicemail: "ben, you're so silly... don't come in this afternoon."

but here i am, officially home sick. will i be back at the office tomorrow? i wrote in the email to my bosses that i expect to be, though that's hardly binding. considering that i feel better today than yesterday, i'll likely be mostly recovered by tomorrow. in fact i probably won't feel too bad when i wake up, in which case i will definitely go as i always do. but maybe i shouldn't. i pretty much knew i shouldn't be at work yesterday, but i stuck around all day.

i think vomiting is the key: if i'm throwing up, i have no problem declaring that i'm ill and won't work. but because i have allergies, head/nasal symptoms don't seem like a big deal, even if they're severe and clearly not caused by allergens. vomiting is a good excuse. apparently having to get up from my desk every 15 minutes to drain the fluids from my head is not that good an excuse, despite drastically cutting down on my productivity and spreading germs to all my co-workers. i need to rework my priorities.

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